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Courtesy of the Denton Spiderman

Spiderman first appeared at Sam’s Club in Denton. 

He was shopping—no doubt trying to find toilet paper—and doing his best to blend in with other shoppers. He left his superhero costume hanging in a closet at home. But after years of fighting Doc Ock, Green Goblin, and Venom, the 40-year-old crime fighter was in the best shape of his life and far more hip with tattoos spiraling up his right arm. In fact, he’d given up his photography gig at the Daily Bugle, moved to Texas, and became a personal fitness trainer at a local gym in Denton County. He is also known as as Jeremy Sons.  

Then COVID-19 hit. Crime rates plunged as criminals sheltered-in-place in fear of catching the coronavirus. Sons lost his job as a personal fitness trainer when Gov. Greg Abbott forced gyms statewide to close in late March, and he was struggling to make ends meet for his wife and daughter. As an independent contractor, Sons didn’t think he was able to file for unemployment and like millions of other Americans, he still hadn’t received his stimulus check. 

Yet, Spiderman always gets back up when he’s knocked down, and Sons wasn’t letting COVID-19 keep him down or damper his optimistic spirit. 

Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for the other Sam’s Club customers. Some were wearing masks but not all. Most were avoiding each other, deviating from their paths whenever someone got too close. Eye contact was no longer an expectation. And God forbid if you cough or sneeze. “Everyone looked scared,” Sons told Local Profile in a Friday night phone interview.

Sons had also been paying attention to what people were saying on social media and noticed that some people were afraid to wear a mask. He wanted to change that. As his Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben used to say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So he decided that the next time he went shopping, he was going to wear his Spiderman costume, which had been gathering dust in his closet since his daughter’s birthday dinner at Magic Time Machine. 

Sons wasn’t expecting the response he’d received from customers when he showed up at Sam’s in his costume with a N95 safety mask nicely fitted over his Spiderman mask. So many people were coming up to him and asking to take social-distancing selfies and post them online. The photos started going viral. 

“I wanted to make a difference and battle the conspiracy theorists and people not following what they are doing and not lowering the risk,” he says. “I’m not scared to wear a mask. I’m muscular, and being smart is not the same as being scared.”

Courtesy of the Denton Spiderman

To get his message across, Sons appeared next at Kroger’s in Denton. Wearing a utility fanny pack loaded with hand sanitizer and his cell phone playing the Spiderman theme song, he stood out in front of the grocery store, holding a sign that read: “Heroes wear masks.”

Customers began swarming him again at a safe distance and asking for social-distancing selfies. The Denton Record-Chronicle heard his call and published a photo of him under the headline “Spiderman shares wisdom.” Spidey created the Facebook page “Denton Spiderman” and began chronicling his adventures for people. 

People started reaching out, telling him about their children who wanted a Spiderman-themed birthday party and wondering how much he would charge to make an appearance. “I won’t charge you anything,” he told them. 

And how could he? He’s Spiderman. He didn’t dust off his costume to make money. “I’m just wanting to help, trying to make people smile, and helping them realize that wearing a mask is not being scared and just being smart,” Sons says. “… I don’t think I would find as much enjoyment and if I was charging anybody right now, it wouldn’t feel right.”

Soon Sons began making appearances at children’s birthday parties. Since he is trying to educate people on the importance of following CDC guidelines, his wife joined in to help and started driving the pickup for him. They rocked the Spiderman theme song on the pickup radio, while Sons clung to his pickup, spraying silly string webs. 

He also took social-distancing selfies with the children. 

“I just feel for the parents and the kids,” Sons says. “They can’t afford a present and can’t have a party, and me showing up and being safe and following the guidelines makes their day, even though it so freakin’ hard when a young child wants to give you a hug. It breaks my heart to avoid that. But I don’t want to be one of those asymptomatic people who thinks they are healthy and then get a child sick.

“Man, that is the hardest part,” he adds, thinking about the children who want to hug him. “I play it off and say, ‘Air hug.’” 

Now Sons is making appearances at birthday parties two times a day/seven days a week. On Friday morning, he led a parade in Sanger, a small town a few miles north of Denton, for elementary school children and the teachers who are doing their best to educate them. Then he headed over to a birthday party in Bowie, a small town about 95 miles northwest of Dallas. 

As for Sons’ future, he recently filed for unemployment after he learned that independent contracts may be entitled to receive some help from President Donald Trump’s CARES Act. He says the gym may also be opening under phase 2 of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Open Texas plan in mid-May. Yet, Sons doesn’t think people will be flocking to the gyms to work out. 

He plans to continue his birthday party appearances. He’s hoping to line up a few sponsors to help him wrap his pickup in a Spiderman design. 

“I’m having an unbelievable amount of fun with this,” Sons says. “I don’t see it fading away. I like doing these birthday parties and wish that this [COVID-19] wasn’t going on because there is so much more I could do. But I just get a lot of enjoyment out of this.”

For more information about the CARES Act, visit twc.texas.gov/news/self-employed-texans-and-cares-act

Christian McPhate

Christian has been working as a freelance journalist in North Texas for more than a decade. His stories have appeared in the Dallas Observer, the Houston Press, and Rolling Stone magazine. He covers a...